Warm Up Wisdom

To warm up, or not to warm up? That is not the question! Most choral directors and general music teachers agree that the voice is a muscle that needs proper care and that “singing cold” could cause harm. However, what’s the best way to warm up students’ voices? Should the exercises contain elements that foreshadow that day’s music? What about nonsense syllables?

 “I view the warm-up process as much for students’ minds as for their voices,” says a long time choral director. “I need to get their minds to transition and focus on our goals for that day’s rehearsal.”

  • Start with a couple of short, fun exercises with nonsense syllables
  • Quickly transitions into something that will directly connect to one of the songs being prepared
  • Later, when you get to the actual music, remind students of the correlating warm-up exercise (something they’ve previously learned).MENC member Christine Nowmos also takes this approach: “I often just make up my own with nonsense words using consonants that I want the kids to focus on in a piece later. Kind of like scat syllables…. Ticka, tocka, ticka, tocka, ticka, tick tick tock. Doot, doobee doot, etc.

    Or repeat a word that they are having trouble with over and over with some kind of a pattern. Just make up a simple pitch pattern or even just have them speak a rhythm pattern—best yet, pull out a rhythm pattern from one of your songs and put nonsense syllables to it. Have the students echo you, and sing something slightly different each time, for a challenge.”

    Getting into the Head Voice

  • Play various siren-type sounds on a slide whistle, have the students imitate on “woo”
  • Toss a ball or beanbag up in the air, at varying tempi, and ask the students to imitate its movement on a neutral syllable such as “ooo” or “aah”
  • Any beautiful vowel tone sung from high do and descending down the scaleResources for Warm-Ups
  • “Choral Warm-Ups for Changing Adolescent Voices” by Patrick K. Freer, March 2009 (vol. 95, no. 3) Music Educators Journal.
  • The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book by Russell Robinson and Jay Althouse
  • Choral Warm-up Collection edited by Sally Albrecht
  • Choral Warm-Ups from A-Z: Singing…Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Karle J. Erickson

Thanks to members of the MENC choral forum.

–Sue Rarus,  February 2, 2011, © National Association for Music Education